You don’t always get what you expect when you see a movie, and “The Post” is a good current example of that.
The movie, Steven Spielberg’s telling of how the Washington Post came to publish the Pentagon Papers, was promoted as relevant to current events because of the animosity between President Donald Trump and media.
The film was produced in record time–by Hollywood standards, anyway–to capitalize on that debate. But that isn’t the movie I ended up enjoying.
Maybe it’s because I’m familiar with the story, or maybe it’s because the tension doesn’t quite match that of two better newspaper movies, “Spotlight” and “All the President’s Men,” but I just couldn’t get that excited about what the Post went through to publish the forbidden documents.
Instead, the movie I saw was the struggle of Katharine Graham to break free of the social conventions that cast her as a mother and wife, and become an assertive, independent woman.
Graham’s father built the Post into a solid regional newspaper and then turned control over to Katharine’s husband, Philip Graham. Katharine was content to be a mother and homemaker–although one with household help–until her husband committed suicide and she was forced to take leadership of the paper.
The Post was getting ready to sell stock to the public when the Pentagon Papers surfaced, and she was caught in a tug-of-war between her board of directors, who didn’t want the papers published, and her hard-charging editor, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks).
The decision was made doubling difficult because many of Graham’s friends–especially former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara–would be hurt if the papers were published. Graham, masterfully portrayed by Meryl Streep, was forced to leave her protective cocoon and asset herself as a person.
Graham is eventually portrayed as a heroine and shining example for younger women. There’s a scene toward the end of the movie where Graham emerges from the Supreme Court building and works her way through the crowd outside. She passes through a group of young women who look at her as if she was a Kardashian. Spielberg isn’t always as subtle as he could be.
Spielberg worked his sledgehammer again at the end of the movie, when he showed a security guard at the Watergate complex stumbling across a burglary in progress at the offices of the Democratic National Committee. I would have preferred a long fade shot of the newsroom where somebody yells to an editor: “They just arrested some guys at the Watergate trying to burglarize the DNC.”
If you want to see newspapers at the top of their game, watch “Spotlight” and “All the President’s Men.” If you want to see a good story of a woman coming into her own, go see “The Post.”
ECLIPSED: This was not one of Tom Hanks’ better performances, mainly because the character he played, Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, was cast as a one-dimensional person. All he cared about was one-upping the New York Times and turning the Post into a big-time newspaper. Maybe it’s his good guy image, but Hanks wasn’t as believable as Jason Robards, who played Bradlee in “All the President’s Men.” That was an editor I can relate to.